Tuesday, August 25, 2009

'Tis The Season To Buy Toys

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I have a really good start on holiday shopping this year. Honestly, I do most of my shopping online at this point - I rarely have the time or energy to shop in a store these days, and if I do, it's a day that gets planned a long time in advance, like my standing Black Friday outlet date with my sister. I could opt out of shopping that day, but the deals are great, and we have a nice time together.

This will be my first Christmas as a parent, and so instead of just buying toys and clothes for neices and nephews, I get to fill a stocking, play Santa, and the whole 9 yards for my own child. Yes, I'm aware that, at 10 months old she won't know the difference between a toy from Santa or from Mommy & Daddy, and the wrapping paper is sure to be the hit of the day. Humor me. I love to make traditions, and family Christmas traditions are ones I've looked forward to making for a long time.

This year, I decided to buy only North American and/or European-produced toys that met pretty exacting standards of child safety. Not only do I want to support smaller, specialized toy producers if I can, but I think that european toys are typically really cool. Much nicer than the plastic-y junk I see at Toys R' Us.

So I've put a lot of time and effort into finding neat toys from some pretty cool places at reasonable prices. Here's my list for those of you who have a White Christmas on the brain despite the hot, humid August we're having.

1. I like wooden toys for kids. Real wood blocks and pull toys are my favorites (note: anything that doesn't require batteries is a plus in my book). http://www.northstartoys.com/ has some really neat rolly animals and push toys. Plus the prices are very reasonable. Two snaps up for this family-owned business in New Mexico.

2. For about the best selection of neat stuff I've seen yet http://www.moolka.com/ wins hands down. Lots of european toys of the nifty sort one doesn't see too often in brick-and-mortar stores. I was especially impressed with their building blocks and stacking toy selection. 4 snaps in a z formation for this site.

3. Similar to MoolKa, the Oompa Toy Store is great. I thought their prices were sometimes a little higher than MoolKa, but they didn't have as much out of stock. http://www.oompa.com/

4. If you like toy trucks, check out the wood ones at http://www.dandmewoodtoys.com/. They have a great selection, along with pull toys and other cool stuff. Their prices are a bit high, but the Klickity Klacker Push Toy is only $39.95, and was chosen by 'Baby Talk' magazine as one of their toys of the year. I love it.

5. Last but not least on my list is http://www.childtrek.com/. Their toys are cool, they are green, and they have a good list of toys under $30.

Happy Holidays...er...summer.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Getting Less Spendy

I've been pretty spendy recently. Some of it has been spending that was planned, but postponed until I returned to work, like replacing my car, flooring for our entryway, and a new grill now that the end of season deals are good.

Some of the rest is holiday and birthday related. I'm well on my way to done shopping with the 7 autumn and winter birthdays that fall between now and the end of the year, as well as quite a few holiday gifts, including for my daughter. Which will feel great when everyone is crowding into the malls in December.

Then there were the costs of hosting 30 people for Kiera's christening party a couple weeks ago, parking costs in Boston, and various other ancillary expenses.

But there was also the clothes I bought for Kiera (let's just say I don't particularly want to add up the total) for winter and sale stuff for next summer. And trips to Dunkin Donuts with my new coworkers, along with a few lunches here and there.

Add it all together, and it's a lot - and I do mean a lot - of spending.

I'm officially spent out, I think. There's more coming - due to a water leak, we have to gut our bathroom in the next few weeks, and we really can't salvage anything. And of course, there's the day to day stuff - tolls, groceries, gas, drycleaning. We have to fill our heating oil tanks this month as well, and that's never cheap.

But aside from the unavoidable, I'm done for a while. A long while.

For clarification, we still have plenty of savings, no credit card debt, and balance the budget. But I don't particularly enjoy overspending. It leaves me with a vaguely icky feeling, like when you eat that second large slice of cake because you want it, not because you have room.

So why did I? A few reasons. For Kiera, it's very important to me that she's well dressed. Maybe because I really wasn't when I was growing up, maybe because, given how much time and medical intervention it took to have her, it's likely she's an only child and I feel like I can spoil her. Probably a combination. Still, parenthood is a marathon, not a sprint, and I need to ease off the gas pedal.

But I think in the bigger picture, I was spending because I felt, for the first time in years, flush and secure. For almost 4 years I was an independent consultant - often contracted month by month, and if I didn't work, I didn't get paid. Now, while still a consultant, I'm an official employee of a firm, with paid time off, and a level of job security. I still have to work to build the business, but the level of risk and insecurity has dropped off significantly. And that has felt pretty good...maybe too good. "Whoopee we can spend again" has never led me to my best moments. Being more frugal and creative has.

The problem with spending is that it breeds more spending. And for someone likes me, who loves to shop - and probably always will - continual shopping just makes it harder to stop. So sometimes I need to pull the plug and just stop entirely. It's the financial version of a reset button for me. And it works.

So it's time to reboot, go through the budget, make sure lunches are packed every night before work, and grab the free coffee at work instead of Dunkin Donuts. I'm not beating myself up - but I'm not giving myself much free reign either.

So maybe getting spent out was good. Now I can focus on other stuff.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Money Vs. Time Equation

I've always been one of those 'why would I pay someone if I don't have to?" kind of people. I want the inexpensive option. And I'd rather spend the time - to make dinner, to wash my own car, and so on - than spend money for the same thing. For me, the time vs. money equation was always summed up as spend the time, save the money.

But sometimes I realize I can't spend the time. And whatever it is that I don't have time for is just as valuable to me as the money it will cost to pay for it. And so then my time vs. money equation reverses to spend the money, save the time.

On one level, I really hate it when that happens. Because it inevitably involves some kind of upscaling of our lifestyle, and a larger proportion of our income becoming outgo.

But I try to recognize that sometimes there's no good option but to shell out. So this month, we took two big plunges - a parking spot for me in Downtown Boston, around the corner from where I work, and a twice-monthly housekeeper. Neither are cheap. In the event of need, both could be done away with (okay, so I wouldn't literally do away with my housekeeper, she's actually very nice). But both grant me tremendous quality of life.

A few weeks ago, our house was complete chaos. Piles of stuff and paper had bred in the dark corners of the various rooms. Laundry hadn't been put away in quite some time, making getting dressed in the morning a unique challenge if, say, my husband needed some socks. And we were spending the weekends trying to stay on top of it.

So in comes Nicole, our housekeeper/magician. She started last Thursday. Our house gleamed after her arrival. I practically danced with glee. Good spend? Oh, yes. Going throug my head was: "Why didn't I do this years ago?" I don't know..something vague about saving money and using it on more practical items. Who knows what I meant by that.

The parking space came about after I realized that I couldn't keep up my previous commute that included: driving to a parking spot(15 min), walking to the train station (15 min) and taking a train (34 minutes), then a subway line(10-30 minutes). All that commuting, plus wait times took it's toll on me even before I had a child. Now that I have a baby to pick up, and no direct way to work on public transportation, I drive. Is it the environmental choice? No. Nor is it the frugal choice. But for now, it's the best choice.

I don't love shelling out the money for these luxuries each month. But until our lives shift to a point where time and sleep aren't at a premium, they'll stay.

And I'm going to enjoy my nice clean bathrooms immensely, thank you very much.